“The Secret Life of Pets” begs the question: What exactly do our pets do all day while we’re gone?
Life is pretty sweet for terrier Max (Louis C.K.), spending his days being doted on by his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) or hanging out with other NYC pets while she’s gone. One day, though, Katie returns home with a new dog Duke (Eric Stonestreet), who inadvertently threatens Max’s comfy lifestyle. When the two are accidentally stranded miles from their home without their collars, the two must set aside their differences to escape the many dangers lurking in the city.
The first thought I had about this film after the main conflict was set up was that “The Secret Life of Pets” was essentially “Toy Story” and “Homeward Bound” if you fused them. Both of those films were extremely formative towards my taste in movies and are excellent, so it’s strange to me that this film didn’t draw more from them when those story elements it did draw obvious inspiration from were easily its strongest aspects.
What I had a problem with was the film’s direction, it’s pacing in particular. Among the many responsibilities of the director, one of the most important is cutting the fat from a story. This means removing unnecessary scenes that slow down the plot, reworking scenes with the writers and animators and making sure the audience stays interested. If you’re under the age of 10, you will love this film. If you’re an adult, though, it will definitely drag in the middle. The animation is cutesy and the comedy is there, but the only interesting parts of the story were it’s beginning and end.
The characters, though, weren’t so much a distinct problem, but an annoyance to me. Max and Duke are both fine lead characters. Their roles are generic and what you’d expect of an odd couple, but are overall entertaining with good voice acting. The other characters were generic as well, but not nearly as much fun. The problem was that most of the other pets had a single quirk or trait that set them apart, but were otherwise all the same character on paper. I would have liked to see something more akin to what “Zootopia” gave us earlier this year: a diverse cast with many different voices and motivations. That, plus the whole cats-are-all-jerks trope is too obvious to be funny anymore.
This is an good film to bring younger children to, and not a bad way to spend two hours with your adult friends either. However, the sophomoric direction familiar story telling elements make the rewatchability factor fairly low for adults, and an overall fun, yet average experience.
Rating: 3/5 stars